Sunday, January 24, 2010

T-Bone Burnett: Shut It Tight

SONG Shut It Tight

WRITTEN BY T-Bone Burnett


APPEARS ON Proof Through the Night (1983, vinyl only), Twenty Twenty: The Essential T-Bone Burnett (2006)

Born in Missouri and raised in Fort Worth, T-Bone Burnett is best known today as a music producer and for his work with such film soundtracks as O Brother Where Art Thou? and Crazy Heart. But the protean 10-time Grammy winner is also a gifted songwriter and, in the Eighties, a prolific recording artist. His lyrics typically explore the challenges that modern life and technology impose on imperfect humans increasingly ill-equipped to deal with them. Burnett often turns to the redemptive themes of love and faith, although his writing has become increasingly pessimistic. Even so, Burnett holds on to the possibility of inherently broken people finding a measure of fulfillment by the simple act of turning to each other.

Burnett first came to my attention back in the mid-Seventies as rhythm guitarist for Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. The unusual name stuck with me; when rummaging through the Austin Public Library's record collection a few years later, I came across his Truth Decay album and checked it out. The album immediately resonated with me, especially the lovely, hopeful ballad "Power of Love." He followed Truth Decay with the highly regarded EP Trap Door, then, in 1983, the full-length Proof Through the Night.

Proof garnered excellent reviews, but Burnett didn't like the production foisted on him by Warner Bros, which probably explains why it has never been released on CD. He reproduced the six songs from it that appear on the excellent Twenty Twenty retrospective, among them "Shut It Tight," the album's best song. "Shut It Tight" covers familiar Burnett territory with a deftness that blends a hard edge with sympathy and defiance. The juxtaposition of opposites ("I do the very things I hate to do") reveals a confused, sometimes inept man who "stumble[s] like a drunk along this crazy path I walk." In the end, no matter how imperfect he may be and no matter how bewildered by life, he's going to hold on because it's what he's given and perhaps because there's a certain dignity and satisfaction attained by fighting until and even after there's not a breath left to draw.

With "Shut It Tight," Burnett creates an everyman out of his own self-doubt and struggles, a figure with whom anyone who admits to his or her own humanity can identify. There's not a songwriter out there who hasn't attempted this at one time or another. That T-Bone Burnett succeeded demonstrates why he remains one of the best.
I find it hard sometimes to say the way that I feel
I do the very things I hate to do
I act like a child and I'm afraid of what is real
And so I try to cover up the truth

I stumble like a drunk along this crazy path I walk
I have a hundred thousand questions too
I'll go to any length to prove that nothing is my fault
Then later on I will deny the proof

I don't like to win but then again I hate to lose
And in between is something I can't stand
I don't care what you think and I hope that you approve
I am just an ordinary man

Sometimes I want to stop and crawl back into the womb
And sometimes I cannot tell wrong from right
But I ain't gonna quit until I'm laid in my tomb
And even then they better shut it tight


  1. Interesting! I've never heard T-Bone performing; I've only ever encountered him as a songwriter and music director. Is all his stuff this dark?

  2. He tackles pretty complex themes. At one time, there was a patina of Christianity over them, but recently they seem to have become more pessimistic. It's odd to me that his worldview would darken even as he has achieved recognition and success.

    I've seen T-Bone twice. The first time was over 20 years at Austin's old Soap Creek Saloon. There was pouring rain that night, and he was late getting in from Houston. His bamd was comprised of local musicians. He did a great rendition of "Gloria" that lasted for about twenty minutes.

  3. K - I was at that show - I think. I thought it was the Continental Club. The LeRoi Brothers played with him .. he came out smoking a cig and sang "King of the Road." Same show?

  4. It could well have been the Continental Club. Soap Creek and the Continental were down the street from one another on S. Congress for a time, so I could easily have mixed them up. My recollection is that the LeRoi Brothers were the band, so it must have been the same show.

    The Brothers were good! They had an EP that I used to play over and over.

  5. good memories ... I think Lou Ann Barton got up and did a song with him too. It's been too long since I've been back to Austin ...